By Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Chief Executive Optimist, Digital Book World
It’s been two weeks since Steve Jobs’ “magical and revolutionary” device officially went from fascinating Rorschach test to tangible consumer appliance, and while some of the hype around it being the savior of book, magazine and newspaper publishing has thankfully died down, there’s no debating that Apple’s App Store has had a significant impact on how we value and consume digital content.
That impact will likely increase with the introduction of the iPad, and it’s especially noteworthy for publishers who are looking to iBooks and the “agency model” to counter Amazon’s pegging $9.99 as the benchmark for eBooks. Savvy publishers are not putting all of their eggs in one basket, though, embracing the Smart Mantra of “Fail Better, Cheaper, Faster” by experimenting with a variety of other initiatives, including mobile apps and enhanced eBooks.
I’ve been using the 16GB WiFi iPad model for two weeks now, testing a variety of free and paid apps, and have come to the conclusion that it’s a very nice, expensive accessory with some compelling features (and even a few benefits), none of which favor the static eBooks offered via iBooks, Kindle or any other traditional eBook retailer, especially not at prices of $9.99 and higher.
Value is subjective, and I suspect publishers who saw iBooks as a way to push back against Amazon’s dominance of the eBook market and $9.99 may look back with a bit of regret as consumers weigh their options in the app store and see what else $9.99 can get them.
I noted this issue last week in The iPad, Transmedia, and the Future of Publishers:
Why pay $9.99+ for a single eBook, when there are far more compelling apps available for much less money, all based on familiar brands, that take full advantage of the $500+ investment in the device? At $9.99, eBooks are competing with everything from Netflix, which allows you to stream unlimited movies for $8.99/month, to well-known games like Scrabble, Need for Speed, Command and Conquer, and Civilization Revolution, all of which are $9.99 – $14.99.
I’ve spent 10+ hours overcoming evil in Dungeon Hunter HD ($6.99), and have stolen 15 minutes here and there to play Harbor Master HD and Battle of the Block (both FREE); caught up on the first five episodes of “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” via the ABC app (FREE); skimmed the news via the USA Today app (FREE); listened to music and news on radio stations from all over the country via the NPR and Radio.com apps (both FREE); surfed the web using Safari (FREE), and used Gmail to send myself the screenshots in this article (FREE).
I’ve already deleted the free IDW Comics, Marvel, NYT Editor’s Choice, Vook and Zinio apps thanks to limited appeal, functionality or both, and while I haven’t deleted them yet, I’ve not given the iBooks, Kindle or Kobo apps a second glance since testing them out on the first day.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be spotlighting specific apps that I think show off the iPad’s features and benefits in unique ways, and offer publishers some ideas on what “eBooks” might offer in an increasingly transmedia digital book world.
ComiXology (FREE): Comics are a visual medium and I’ve always thought they had the most to gain from digitization. When the Kindle first came out I suggested a Marvel Essentials-branded collector’s edition (or any of the major manga franchises) would be a smart move, timed for the holidays and targeted to avid collectors used to spending a lot of money on comics, while taking full advantage of the source material already being in black-and-white.
ComiXology’s excellent iPad app is an impressive step towards, and well beyond, that idea, offering a solid inventory of comics from a variety of publishers (including all of those found in Marvel’s app, which they also developed), at prices ranging from free to $1.99/issue. You can browse by Series, Genre, Creator, Publisher and Storylines/Arcs, or by Featured, New, Popular and Free. They’re currently featuring the 8-issue mini-series Kick-Ass (source of the action-comedy movie that opened this past weekend), selling each for $1.99, while the Hardcover collection of those issues has a $24.99 cover price, and the trade paperback and individual issues areout-of-print and only available on the back-issue market.
[NOTE: According to ComiXology, all 8 issues are among their top in-app purchases. That's a nice complement to the 100,000 copies of the Hardcover Marvel reportedly sold.]
Where ComiXology one-ups all other ereader apps is with its “Guided View” and letterboxing presentation, playing to comics’ cinematic DNA by offering a panel-by-panel view and smooth animated transitions that goes beyond static ePub and animated page turns. Instead of simulating the look and feel of print (which is an option), they went a step further and built an app that leverages the iPad’s strengths while also meeting user’s expectations.
If they can come up with a subscription model (pull list) and time releases to coincide AT LEAST with the collected editions, if not with the individual issues themselves, ComiXology could be the killer app for digital comics than enables independent publishers to effectively compete with Marvel and DC.
Seeing how their iPhone app syncs with their website — including social networking and the ability to transmit pull lists to local comics shops — suggests there’s a lot more to come from ComiXology on the iPad, and a lot more opportunities for publishers to explore beyond being locked in to of Amazon and Apple’s closed ecosystems.
Guy LeCharles Gonzalez is the Chief Executive Optimist for Digital Book World, and also a longtime fan of comic books.